LACONIA — Josh Youssef is surrounded by history. He sees it. He smells it. He knows its charm, and he knows its challenges.
Youssef, a computer programming expert who owns a computer repair and upgrade company, says he has long been interested "in touching history." For the past three years, he has done more than touch it. Since buying the Jewett Homestead on Gilford Avenue, the oldest house in Laconia, Youssef has been rolling up his sleeves and tackling history with his hands.
The Jewett Homestead was built in 1780 by Jacob Jewett, one of the founders of present-day Laconia. (At the time the house was built its location was then part of Gilmanton.) An ell was added around 1840, Youssef believes. In time the timber-frame, center-chimney cape and its additions grew to 15 rooms and 4,400 square feet. Alongside the house was a substantial barn, which was dismantled and trucked to Gilford in the 1990s, where it was rebuilt.
Youssef became the owner of the house somewhat by happenstance. He was all set to buy another house in late 2011 when he learned that the Jewett Homestead was up for sale. He bought the home for $67,000 in December of that year.
"The house was in state of serious disrepair," Youssef explained, and he did not start living there until February 2013. "I wanted to bring it back to something of its original grandeur," he said, explaining what prompted him to take on the challenge.
Since becoming the owner of a piece of history it's been one project after another. He had a new roofing installed, repainted the exterior, replaced the heating system, had new insulation put in, and replaced most of the plumbing.
While he has hired contractors to handle the larger projects, he is doing as much of the work as possible himself. Currently he is doing the finishing work on a new front door for the house. The large shed attached the ell serves as Youssef workshop.
As the work has progressed Youssef says "the more in touch with history," he has become.
The house's place in Laconia's history is never far from his mind. As he walks through the living room with its beamed ceiling and large brick fireplace, he often thinks of the conversations that must have taken place in the room at about the time the U.S. finally gained its independence from Great Britain.
Four generations of the Jewett family lived in the house. The last was Abbie Jewett, who was an art teacher at Laconia High School, and in addition worked in arts and crafts, and during the 1930s and 1940s operated a tea room in one part of the house.
Tackling a project such as this is not for the faint of heart, Youssef cautions. He is quick to say that his goal is to renovate the house, not restore it, explaining that restoration would mean returning to the way it would have looked and furnished in the 18th and 19th centuries. But while the house will certainly have plenty of modern features, like contemporary kitchen appliances and wide-screen TVs, Youssef wants to do it in way that is respectful of the home's past.
Youssef expects that eventually he will offer the house for sale.
Meanwhile, Youssef, his partner Julie Griffin, and their 17-month-old son, Joshua, are living in what can best be described as a work in progress.
Youssef said that anyone who is thinking of tackling a similar project either needs to be prepared to spend a great deal of money or else have the know-how to do a lot of the work themselves. "You either need to show up with a lot of money, or your tools," he said.
Even with doing much of the work himself, Youssef said he has so far spent $200,000 on the project.
But Youssef is philosophical. "This house is always going to need work," he observed.